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Skin-Inspired Sensory Robots Revolutionising Medical Treatment

Skin-Inspired Sensory Robots Revolutionising Medical Treatment

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed advanced soft robots inspired by the functioning and aesthetics of human skin. These technological marvels come equipped with electronic skins and artificial muscles, enabling them to accurately sense their environment and adapt movements in real-time according to their findings. This innovation was highlighted in the paper Skin-Inspired, Sensory Robots for Electronic Implants, published in Nature Communications.

The revolutionary robots, funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, are designed to resemble how the skin and muscles of living organisms interact and operate. The electronic skin (e-skin) consists of diverse sensing materials such as conductive polymers and silver nanowires, housed within a flexible base. It works similarly to human skin, with the ability to sense and respond to its surroundings.

These robots are adept at performing a multitude of well-controlled movements, including expansion, bending, and twisting, within biological spaces. According to Lin Zhang, the first author of the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at Carolina's Department of Applied Physical Sciences, these robots have the ability to gently attach to tissues, minimizing stress and potential damage. Taking cues from natural forms like starfish and seedpods, they adjust their structures to execute various tasks efficiently.

The unique characteristics of these robots make them ideal for enhancing medical diagnostics and treatments. They have the ability to adapt their shapes to fit organs for accurate sensing and administer treatments like electrical stimulation based on real-time data.

Examples of their application include a thera-gripper, an ingestible robot capable of monitoring pH levels and dispensing medication over a long period, thereby enhancing treatment outcomes for gastrointestinal conditions. The thera-gripper can also attach gently to a beating heart to monitor electrophysiological activity, measure cardiac contraction and deliver electrical stimulation to regulate the heart's rhythm. Other applications include a robotic gripper that can wrap around a bladder to measure its volume and provide electrical stimulation for overactive bladders. A robotic cuff that can twist around a blood vessel can accurately measure blood pressure in real-time.

The study, a collective effort of several research departments and universities, has delivered promising results from live animal models, indicating a bright future for these robots in real-world medicinal applications. Potential benefits include a revolution in chronic disease treatment and improved patient outcomes.

Principal investigator of the research and Carolina assistant professor, Wubin Bai, states that these novel robotic designs expand the possibilities of medical devices and shed light on the potential for advanced interactions between soft implantable robots and biological tissues. Their main objective is long-term biocompatibility and stability within dynamic physiological environments.

Disclaimer: The above article was written with the assistance of AI. The original sources can be found on ScienceDaily.